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Financial Health Research: Expanding Our DEI Lens

As part of our DEI commitment, the Financial Health Network is updating our survey questions and analysis around ethnicity, gender, LGBTQIA+ status, and ability.

Monday, January 31, 2022
 Financial Health Research: Expanding Our DEI Lens

Each of us has a multidimensional identity – we contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman famously asserted. The keys to communicating and belonging within that identity are the words and language we use to learn about and describe ourselves and others.  

As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the Financial Health Network spent much of 2021 examining our research process. We looked at how we collect data, analyze it, and communicate our findings to ensure that our practices align with our DEI goals. We explored our use of language when asking people how they identify, specifically about their race, gender, sexuality, and ability, as a starting point. 

By improving our existing questions and adding new ones, we can better understand the financial health of historically marginalized communities to ultimately inform solutions that address existing financial health disparities. After months of listening, learning, and reflecting, the Financial Health Network updated key areas of our 2021 Financial Health Pulse™ survey as we began to embed DEI and research best practices into our research approach. Below is a summary of the changes we’ve made and examples of their impact, which help us more accurately understand and capture insights around financial health.

Race and Ethnicity

For over a century, the census, along with a majority of other surveys, has asked about ethnicity (specifically whether someone is “Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino”) separately from race. If a respondent answers “yes” to this question, their answer to the race question is typically not used in analysis. This separation belies a deeply complex history of colonization and migration. 

In the 2021 Financial Health Pulse™ survey, we combined the race and ethnicity questions into one. By including “Latinx” as a choice within the race question, we allowed respondents to select an identity that best described their lived experience. This approach gives more agency to the respondent and follows recommendations from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as external subject matter experts (including several who identify as Latinx). 

Gender

Until very recently in this country, gender has been conceptualized as a binary – survey respondents were categorized as either male or female. This categorization prevents us from understanding the nuanced experiences and financial health needs of individuals outside the gender binary. 

As our understanding of gender evolves, so must our language, so the Financial Health Network has expanded our response choices to include nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and genderqueer. For example, in the Financial Health Pulse™ 2021 U.S. Trends Report, we included nonbinary and gender nonconforming people in our analysis of the financial health of LGBTQIA+ people. We found that LGBTQIA+ individuals are less likely to be considered Financially Healthy and more likely to be considered Financially Vulnerable, compared with non-LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

LGBTQIA+ Status

More than 5% of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, yet many surveys do not ask respondents about their LGBTQIA+ status. To construct an inclusive and accurate LGBTQIA+ variable, we added two questions to the 2021 Financial Health Pulse™ survey on sexual orientation and transgender status, in addition to the question on gender identity. 

Respondents who identify as nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, or any gender identity other than “man” or “woman,” as well as those who identify as transgender, homosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual, or any sexual orientation other than heterosexual or straight, are defined as LGBTQIA+. We featured this data in a blog post analyzing the effect that financial challenges and systemic exclusion from crucial economic resources have had on  LGBTQIA+ people’s financial health. 

Ability

To better align with the U.S. Census Bureau classification of people with disabilities, we’ve added six comprehensive questions asking about both the respondent and the members of their household to get a clear picture of ability within the household. People with disabilities and their families have specific financial health needs, and this update will allow us to better understand and solve for those needs. For example, by including these questions in our Financial Health Pulse™ 2021 U.S. Trends Report, we found that people with disabilities are significantly less likely to be considered Financially Healthy and are more likely to be considered Financially Vulnerable. 

Our DEI Efforts Are Ongoing

The Financial Health Network understands that language and identity are fluid and ever-evolving. The changes we made in 2021 acknowledge this evolution and represent our efforts to keep pace. Beyond language, we are also examining our research process, including how we collect data, who participates in our analysis, and how we summarize and publish our findings. By asking questions that align more closely with the myriad ways people identify, and by conducting research into more inclusive and collaborative survey methods, we hope to help anyone who participates in and informs our work feel seen and included. 

The Financial Health Network team will continue to explore the most authentic ways to capture demographic information for the complex and diverse populations we survey. We hope to foster ongoing discussion around best practices and enrich our learning with insights from others doing this work. Please direct questions and feedback to pulse@finhealthnetwork.org

For more information on the 2021 Financial Health Pulse™ survey questions and how we approached the analysis, read Appendix A of the Financial Health Pulse™ 2021 U.S. Trends Report. To view the questions, download the 2021 Financial Health Pulse™ survey questionnaire.

Written by

  • Andrew Dunn
    Senior Manager, Data
    Financial Health Network
  • Tanya Ladha
    Senior Director, Workplace Solutions
    Financial Health Network